Ron Paul's Revolution
by David Gordon
by David Gordon
The Revolution: A Manifesto. By Ron Paul. Grand Central Publishing, 2008. Xi + 173 pages.
In his historic campaign for president, Ron Paul again and again held up the Constitution as a benchmark to judge the policies of the American government. For this, some libertarians criticized him. Was Paul not guilty of "constitution worship"? What has a document that began as an effort to replace the Articles of Confederation with a more effective and powerful central government to do with libertarianism? Indeed, some of his most severe critics claimed, Ron Paul did not qualify as a libertarian at all.
In The Revolution: A Manifesto, Ron Paul responds magnificently to this false and irresponsible charge. He is well aware of the limited value of the Constitution: it is a far from ideal arrangement. Nevertheless, it remains the fundamental law of the United States and, if interpreted correctly, provides an excellent means to check the depredations of a government that violates its provisions.
To be sure, the U.S. Constitution is not perfect. Few human contrivances are. But it is a pretty good one, I [Paul] think, and it defines and limits the scope of government. When we get into the habit of disregarding it, we do so at our peril. (p. 67)
To say this at once raises a new question: how is the Constitution to be interpreted? Paul answers that it must be read in a way consistent with the underlying principle of the document, the promotion of freedom. In this connection, he cites effectively a speech by Daniel Webster that condemned conscription as unconstitutional. The Constitution does not mention the subject at all: how then could he be so sure that the government lacked this power? Webster said that since the Constitution aims to promote freedom, no infringement of freedom could possibly be constitutional unless the document explicitly mandated it.
A free government with arbitrary means to administer it is a contradiction; a free government without adequate provisions for personal security is an absurdity; a free government, with an uncontrolled power of military conscription, is a solecism, at once the most ridiculous and abominable that ever entered into the head of man. (p. 56, quoting Webster)
Webster's view, here adopted by Paul, closely resembles Lysander Spooner's method of constitutional analysis, by which he controversially attempted to show the unconstitutionality of slavery, long before the adoption of the Thirteenth Amendment.
June 4, 2008
Copyright © 2008 Ludwig von Mises Institute